Today marks one of the most shameful moments I have ever experienced in politics. I don’t say this lightly. I feel repulsed by what I saw on display in the Commons today. Let me explain:

Former cabinet minister and Tory MP Owen Patterson was investigated by the independent commissioner of standards for potential corruption. After taking submissions from witnesses, assessing evidence and undertaking an inquiry, she concluded that Mr Patterson had been paid £300,000 by two companies over three years to explicitly use his position as an MP and former minister to influence government policy.

On 14 separate occasions Patterson met with the government with the specific intention of persuading them to buy the products and services of the companies paying him all that money. The Commissioner said that he repeatedly used his taxpayer-funded office in parliament to influence policy on his company paymaster’s behalf.

The report concluded that it was the most “egregious” act of ‘cash for access’ that parliament had seen in modern times.

In other words, there was nothing equivocal about it, Owen Patterson was bang to rights. Guilty.

As this is the House of Commons there’s a clear principle that unelected officials can’t override or sanction a democratically elected one. So there’s a second stage, called the committee on standards and privileges which is made up of cross-party MPs, lay members and a chair that is elected by all MPs. This committee voted unanimously to accept the commissioners report, including all four Tory MPs. They recommended that Owen Patterson be suspended from the House for 30 days.

Finally it goes to a vote of all MP’s in the main Commons chamber. That happened today.

But something staggering happened. Friends of Owen Patterson got together and tabled an amendment to the vote which would halt proceedings against him, change the entire system of holding MPs to account for corruption, and then allow him to appeal the decision once a new system and committee is in place.

And you guessed it, that committee will have a Tory majority built into it and have a chair that is not elected by every MP as we do now, but appointed by Boris Johnson.

They won the vote and it totally breaks my heart.

Lets be totally clear about this: the Tory government has just enacted a corruption charter for the sole purpose of getting their mate off the hook.

The first ‘cash for access’ rules in the House of Commons were passed in the 1600’s and updated many times since. In all that time the rules have only been strengthened…until Boris Johnson and this particular brand of Tory Party. This is the first time in our history that corruption rules have been relaxed and it totally stinks. They’ve done it as a favour for their mate and all the others to come who will now get away with terrible acts of corruption.

So I feel total shame today even though I voted against this happening (and so did a few Tory MPs who deserve our thanks, but not nearly enough to actually make a difference).

The media is already saying ‘MPs voted to relax corruption rules’ but this is not true. *Tory* MPs voted to relax corruption rules, Labour MPs did not. Despite the saying, I promise we’re not all the same!

During a speech jam packed with mendacity, Jacob Reece-Mogg actually said that as part of his £300,000 worth of work he’d pointed out some very important issues to government.  My legs propelled me to my feet in an instant – I just had to point out that decent MPs don’t need to be paid backhanders to point out important things on behalf of residents, it’s our job! In the most telling comment I’ve ever seen, Reece-Mogg said my point was “fatuous”. Well I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.

Tell everyone you know. Our democracy is under attack again. Just at the moment that world leaders are in Britain and the eyes of the world are on us we show them a government excusing corruption, attacking parliament and weakening our standards in public life.

As always, don’t despair. There’s loads of us fighting for better. You deserve it. 

Yours, Peter



Shame in Parliament
Shame in Parliament
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